Echigo Sanya

San’ya (Echigo)  三谷 (越後)

This particular version of Sanya comes form Echigo, the old name for Niigata Prefecture, on the northern coast of Honshu. It was passed down through the Myoan Temple in Echigo (Present-day Niigata Prefecture).

Myoanji in Echigo was constructed in the Tokugawa Period by the lord of Echigo-Muramatsu in the castle town of that name. Later it was relocated to Shimoda, south of the city of Sanjo. This temple held to the principle of ichi-ji: ichi-ritsu (one temple: one melody = only one piece should be passed down as the legacy of each temple), so that this piece was the only one played; however, Reibo was also taught as a junkyoku (“associated piece »).

Structure of the piece

It is constructed in the manner of Tohoku-style honkyoku: [Takeshirabe – Honte – Takane – Hachigaeshi – Musubi]. It has a clearly defined jo-ha-kyu structure, and the whole piece has a flowing rhythmical sense.

  • Takeshirabe This is a fairly long introductory section in the RO-range first octave). The highly dynamic yuri-buki used in the opening melody increases the strong emotional and rhythmic impression of this piece. The entire takeshirabe is played with this meandering, winding yuri-buki. In particular there are nine spots where emphatic yuri-buki is utilized, and three places where strong nayashi is employed (nayashi = a technique where shaking the head accents certain tones). The melodic forms linked to these techniques add greatly to the emotional impression of this piece.
  • Honte: A high-pitched section in the KO-range (second octave). Two melodic patterns are played, each filled with the infinite sadness characteristic of this piece.
  • Takane It begins with a takane melody typical of Tohoku–style honkyoku’ (i.e. a melody centering on the KO-no-hi and ha tones), and continues the characteristic melodic pattern already mentioned in the honte, a pattern which conveys an acute sense of yearning. This melody is gradually modified and repeated three times.
  • Hachigaeshi At this point the mood shifts and from the summit of sorrow there begins a melody which includes a feeling of resignation. After the large “mountain” of the takane, this is a smaller rise in a lower register.
  • Musubi Again the piece returns to the lower range. However, the overall tone is a little higher than that of the takeshirabe, so that we feel a little “afterglow” from the mood of the takane and hachigaeshi. At the same time the characteristic technique of yuri-buki found in the takeshirabe reappears, so that as we feel a return toward the opening section, the piece ends in a mood of mysterious darkness.

Source: The International Shakuhachi Society (

Hélène Seiyu Codjo

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